Public Release: 

High-speed network connection ties top universities to ORNL

DOE/Oak Ridge National Laboratory

OAK RIDGE, Tenn., Aug. 14, 2002 - Oak Ridge National Laboratory's new computer link to Atlanta is 200,000 times faster than the fastest dial-up connections typical of home computers and is expected to spur significant advances in science and economic development in the region and beyond.

At a ceremony today at ORNL, Ray Orbach, director of the Department of Energy's Office of Science, symbolically completed the connection linking the laboratory's supercomputer to Southern Crossroads ( universities and other premier schools around the country. The link will connect DOE's ESnet computer network with Internet2, the network of top-tier universities, at speeds up to 20 times faster than the previous ORNL connection. With the new link, a data file the size of the film "Gone With the Wind" could be transmitted in a mere six seconds.

"This new high-speed network strengthens the partnership between DOE and the academic community, which is critical to our plans to reassert U.S. leadership in computational sciences," said ORNL's Thomas Zacharia, associate lab director for the Computing and Computational Sciences Directorate.

The network of fiber optic cables, which run from ORNL through Chattanooga to Georgia Tech in Atlanta, also will enhance the ORNL-Chattanooga technology corridor by positioning the region for new research and development opportunities. And the benefits are likely to extend far beyond, including throughout Georgia.

"Over the past several years ORNL, Oak Ridge Associated Universities and the core universities -- Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, University of Virginia, Duke, North Carolina State, University of Tennessee and Florida State -- have worked together in order to foster inter-institutional, multidisciplinary research," said Charles L. Liotta, vice president for research at Georgia Tech. "The new high-speed network will allow this partnership to evolve to a new level of research/education collaboration. I predict that an important outcome will be enhanced economic development for this region of the nation."

Bill Wing of ORNL's Computer Science and Mathematics Division noted that the connection to Southern Crossroads universities will allow for vastly increased flow of information between ORNL researchers and collaborators at Internet2 institutions. Southern Crossroads members include the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Emory, Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida State and Georgia Tech, the site of the 10 gigabit (10 billion bits per second) connection. The high-speed link is provided by Qwest Communications International, which also supplies the backbone for ESnet and Internet2.

With the link to ORNL's Cheetah, a 4.5 teraflop IBM machine recently listed No. 8 in the Top500 list of fastest computers in the world, researchers from leading universities and national laboratories will have access to incredible amounts of data that will help them in their studies of astrophysics, biology, chemistry, climate modeling, materials and fusion. Researchers will be able to acquire data through ORNL's Center for Computational Sciences in a matter of seconds.

And this is just the beginning, as DOE and ORNL look forward to an ongoing partnership with the nation's research universities. Officials are confident they will see extraordinary progress in computers and high-performance networks for science and engineering.

"The network forms a test bed that will serve as the basis for network research and development that will carry DOE's computational mission forward for the next five to 10 years," Zacharia said. "Soon, we will need to transport petabyte-size files and this network and the research it enables will be crucial."

ORNL officials also noted that linking Internet2 and ESnet is a natural step for ORNL because the Center for Computational Sciences is the designated primary site for DOE's Scientific Discovery through Advanced Computing. The initiative involves extensive partnerships between 13 DOE labs and about 50 universities and is intended to solve research problems of national importance.

For example, John Drake, an ORNL senior researcher, noted the immediate impact the high-speed connection will have in ocean science studies and a $20 million SciDAC climate study.

"This enables our collaborators at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Los Alamos National Laboratory to receive very large data files containing new analyses of the ocean's influence on future climates," Drake said. "With that information readily available, researchers will be able to perform studies more quickly and they will be able to develop more sophisticated models."

Recently, the new computing power of the Cheetah enabled researchers at ORNL and the National Center for Atmospheric Research to double the resolution of climate studies. Scientists expect that breakthrough to result in a better understanding of local impacts on global climate change.

While some connections, including those at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and UT, will increase from 45 or 155 million bits per second (mbs) to 622 mbs, many will leap to 10 gigabits per second when the Internet2 speed increases to OC192 later this year. Among those will be ORNL connections to Georgia Tech, Stanford, the University of Washington, Argonne National Laboratory, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois and San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Efforts to make the connection happen began more than a year ago and have involved dozens of people, said Zacharia, who acknowledged the support from Chattanooga Mayor Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp (R-3rd District). "Without their diligence and commitment to this project, we simply would not be poised to leap into an era of new collaborations and discoveries certain to make our lives better," Zacharia said.


ORNL is a Department of Energy multiprogram research facility managed by UT-Battelle.


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